[Note: Due to the lack of screenshots of the current build, the screenshots in this article are from the 2010 XBLIG version of the game. The current build looks much cleaner]
Charlie Murder is a simple game at heart. The game was initially designed as a $1 Xbox Live Indie Games title and meant to be a tribute to arcade brawlers such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time and The Punisher. However, Microsoft took interest in the title while Ska Studios (currently two people) was developing The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile (which, as you may recall, I liked quite a bit, and it has since been expanded into a full XBLA title).
The game focuses around the punk band Charlie Murder, and their quest to rescue their lead singer’s girlfriend Skelekitten from their rival death metal band, Gore Quaffer. Unfortunately for Charlie Murder, Gore Quaffer’s bassist controls legions of the undead.
The titular band is made up of the green-haired Charlie Murder, the band’s lead vocalist and namesake, the tall, mohawked Lester Deth (guitar and backup vocals), Tommy Homicide (the stocky bassist), and the inhumanly-large, hockey-mask-wearing drummer, the Rexecutioner. These four are the game’s playable characters, since, as Ska’s "Lead Dishwasher" James Silva says, "it just felt natural to have a four player beat ’em up star a four-piece punk band."
The demo opened with the band members in hell fighting off demons. After a few seconds of combat, the band was lifted into the air by a radiant pillar of light…
…and brought back to life by some friendly EMTs with chest paddles only to see Gore Quaffer walking (and in one case) floating by. Then come the zombies.
While the demo I played didn’t have the most engaging story, its narrative gaps were all forgotten as soon as I came to grips with the combat. Based off of the combat system in The Dishwasher: Vampire Smile, combat in Charlie Murder is a bit more complex and technical than your average beat-em-up. In traditional action game fashion, light attacks are mapped to X, heavy to Y, grabs to B, and jumping to Y. With these simple tools, each band member becomes a whirlwind of destruction, able to do dashing attacks, launchers, seemingly infinite air combos, and even my beloved izuna drops.
Oh, and of course, Silva kept friendly damage, for the sole reason that "it’s more fun." The game also has a block and counter system. You can hold the left trigger to block, but if you hit it at exactly the right time, you’ll knock the opponent back and have the opportunity for a free combo.
As I tore through my zombified foes, I noticed that each kill would result in a blue stylized squid popping up onscreen next to a +1 or +2. Silva explained that these were my new Squ.iddl.us (think a squid-based Twitter) followers, which essentially acted as my experience points. However, I could also access my character’s cellphone at any time with the directional pad and read what my followers were squipping at me. I was informed of my increasing internet fame whenever I reached a multiple of 100 followers, so I assume that each hundred or so increases a character’s stats. While this isn’t in the game at the moment, Silva said that he might include the ability to take and squip pictures with the in-game cell phones.
Killing enemies didn’t just result in Squ.iddl.us followers, they would also occasionally drop loot. While the band’s weapons are either their fists or whatever they can pick up (everything from katanas to severed heads in my demo), they are able to pick up new clothes and accessories.
These trinkets don’t simply adjust character stats, but also change each character’s appearance. I was impressed to see that any character could wear any shirt or accessory, despite how different the band members’ physical builds are. Older, less powerful shirts can be sold on CraigsBay at handily-placed computer terminals for a bit of cash, which can be used to buy beer (which will heal you and increase your stats, just like in real life).
After brawling through tons of enemies and a mid-boss, we finally reached the final boss of the demo. Gore Quaffer band member King Tepes. During this fight, my teammates and I discovered the joy of Anarchi. Functioning as the game’s magic system, if you hold the right trigger and presa one of the face buttons, your character will whip out their instrument and use their Anarchi. Each button corresponds to a different spell, which (in punk rock fashion) are learned by getting tattoos, and range from teamwide stat buffs to attack spells. My personal favorite was Tommy Homicide’s poisoned buzzsaw, which aside from doing a ton of damage, poisoned anyone in the immediate vicinity as it tore across the floor.
After a final showdown involving severed heads flying through the air, giant hooks, and more chaos than I can adequately describe, King Tepes was defeated, taking his underlings with him in a slow-mo death scene, and my demo was over.
Charlie Murder will be released on Xbox Live Arcade in 2012.
Food for thought:
1. The game’s music will be written as Charlie Murder, and by extension will have a more punk rock feel than any of Ska’s previous games.
2. In what might be the sweetest moment in PAX history, James Silva asked the other half of Ska Studios, “Art Unicorn” Michelle Juett, to marry him with an ingame proposal. Details can be read and video can be seen here.